An economy Italy can’t refuse

Scott Jagow Oct 23, 2007


Scott Jagow: Most of what Americans know about the Italian mafia comes from movies like the Godfather:

Don Vito Corleone: I want you to rest well, and in a month from now, this Hollywood big shot’s gonna give you what you want.

Johnny Fontane: Too late. They start shooting in week.

Corleone: I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.

But you may not realize just how powerful the mafia still is. A new report says it’s the biggest segment of the Italian economy. It accounts for 7 percent of GDP.

We’re joined now by reporter Megan Williams in Rome. Megan, here in this country, the mafia has declined over the years. Why is it stronger than ever in Italy?

Megan Williams: It’s shocking, but I think what was one of the most alarming things about this report is that businesses are paying the mafia. They’re not reporting. And I think that’s reflective of the fact that people don’t believe that the government is strong enough to really do anything about it.

Jagow: So if organized crime, Megan, is the biggest segment of the Italian economy, how does that affect the overall economy, and people’s lives in Italy?

Williams: Well, I think in a bunch of different ways. I mean, the thing about the mafia is that it has infiltrated so many businesses that there’s kind of an illusion sometimes, in area’s where the mafia’s controlling things, that if it weren’t for the mafia, there wouldn’t be work. Right, because a lot of businesses — legal businesses — aren’t willing to go to areas that are dominated by the mafia. So there’s a kind of a commercial void — which is convenient to the mafia, they want to fill it — and then they employ people. Now of course, they’re paying less than minimum wage, and nobody’s paying any taxes. So it’s very destructive to the country as a whole, because there’s no money going into schools and to roads. Anything that, you know, kind of constitutes the fabric of Italy.

Jagow: And what kind of crimes are the mafia into these days?

Williams: Well, you know, there’s the traditional stuff, which is drug-dealing and prostitution. But the big money these days is white-collar. You know, a lot of the mafia now are sitting in front of computers and transferring huge sums of money from one country to another. And again, a lot of that money goes into seemingly legal businesses, like supermarkets, public works projects, all that sort of stuff.

Jagow: And dare I ask whether Italy is doing anything about this?

Williams: Well, you know, it’s the age-old problem with Italy. I mean, there are certainly people within the Italian system who are trying to do something about it. But it’s a very difficult problem to tackle, because very few people are clean, 100 percent clean here.

Jagow: OK, Megan Williams reporting from Rome. Thank you.

Williams: Thanks, Scott.

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